MPP Jim McDonell taken to task over pandemic response

·7 min read

SDG – Local member of provincial parliament Jim McDonell was on the virtual hot seat as he faced SDG Counties council at a special meeting April 21st.

Federal member of Parliament Eric Duncan, and Eastern Ontario Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, were also in attendance, but the attention was clearly drawn on McDonell.

Councillor Allan Armstrong (North Dundas) challenged the MPP about vaccine distribution in the region stating that 24 pharmacies in the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit offered vaccines, while in the EOHU only six pharmacies offered clinics. There are about 27,000 more people in the EOHU region compared to the LGLDHU.

“It’s not an us and them but as you well know you represent our riding,” Armstrong said. “Did you express concern about this inequity?”

McDonell, who initially read from prepared remarks, defended the provincial roll out of vaccines, saying that doses are being delivered on a “per capita basis.”

He clarified that vaccinations through public health units are on a per capita basis.

“I was not happy with the rollout,” McDonell said regarding pharmacy vaccination locations. “Those sites were chosen by the Ministry of Health.”

He said he lobbied for “about two weeks” before the pharmacies in the EOHU region received approval to offer vaccines. There are currently six locations in the EOHU region, and three of those are in McDonell’s riding.

The MPP continued to detail how the lack of vaccine supply from the federal government is causing delays in delivery.

“There’s no use opening more pharmacies that have no vaccine supply,” he said.

Armstrong queried about the readiness of the region to deliver more vaccines should supply issues resolve and that there only being six participating pharmacies in the health unit region gives residents “cause for concern.”

“Let’s hope that if the feds do their job, I would hope you are in the position to do your job,” Armstrong said.

McDonell said that in many areas across the province, pharmacy vaccinations are slower than what the government expected, suggesting that people are ‘vaccine shopping.’

“If we have a choice between the Pfizer vaccine and what’s being given out at pharmacies (AstraZeneca), the people have spoken very clearly what they prefer,” McDonell said. “We couldn’t get people to go to the pharmacies because they didn’t want the AstraZeneca.”

SDG Warden Frank Prevost took exception to that.

“When I called the pharmacy this morning I didn’t specify with regards to what vaccine I wanted and they told me to call back at a later date because they didn’t have any of them,” he said.

“I am extremely upset at the way that the pharmacy rollout of vaccines has been done,” Roumeliotis stated. “It is unacceptable. I had to beg for three pharmacies in the beginning and we had to even beg for the other two in Cornwall recently. We were never given a choice where the pharmacies would be. I am very upset that Leeds Grenville has many more than we do. Ottawa has 10 times as many as we do, much more by per capita. I am extremely upset. I have raised this with the deputy minister and I am told ‘well you are going to get the vaccines soon.’”

He added he understood why the LGLDHU received some increases in vaccines recently as the EOHU did start vaccinating with Pfizer sooner.

“The bottom line is I am extremely unhappy about the way that the pharmacies have been chosen,” Roumeliotis explained saying he would have chosen other locations based on geography.

Councillor Bryan McGillis (South Stormont) said that the message from the provincial government of what is allowed is confusing to the public.

“There’s a lot of people that don’t know what’s legal and what’s not,” he said adding that government measures need more clarity for the public.

Throughout the two hour public meeting, McDonell was the focus of the 12-member County Council. Many of the questions about vaccine availability were deflected by the MPP, blaming federal supply issues. McDonell also detailed frequently about how hard hit other areas of the province are including the Peel region near Toronto.

Armstrong took umbrage with McDonell’s responses and demeanor at the meeting.

“I find it a bit disturbing sir that you are choosing to smile through this conversation,” Armstrong said. “You continue to remind us what it is like in Peel and what its like in other areas, and perhaps compare us to that and tell us stories we are all very well aware of. We weren’t here to get a lesson on COVID, we all know how it works. To keep lecturing us and give us anecdotes, we all could fill this night with anecdotes.”

Armstrong went on to say that SDG Counties makes up about 70 per cent of the SDSG riding.

“I think you need to remember where it is you come from and the area you are supposed to represent,” he continued, speaking of the effect that three rounds of business closures have had in the region.

“If we lose five-six hair dressers, it seems like nothing to the people of Peel, and perhaps that’s who you’re representing.”

He called the economic situation for small businesses ‘tenuous’.

“We don’t have five people lined up, we don’t have 50 people lined up like they do have in the GTA,” Armstrong said, suggesting that small business owners like barbers and hair dressers be allowed to open using more personal protective equipment similar to what dentists are using now.

Armstrong also questioned the government’s restrictions on big-box stores following current restrictions and the amount of enforcement being done.

“When we lose our economies, and we will, you won’t have a riding, and we’re going to need provincial money to prop us back up,” he said. “These concerns are not to be laughed at. These people have suffered three lockdowns and they are only just surviving. They won’t survive the next one.”

McDonell said his government is doing something but the situation in hospitals continues to be critical.

“They’ve set up temporary field army hospitals,” he said. “And they are full as well. This is not fun. You’re looking at a life and death situation here that we’ve never had before.”

Responding to his making comparisons to Peel Region, McDonell claimed that conditions in Peel are “twice as bad as we are.” He continued to say that the EOHU region is not a hotspot compared to the GTA region.

The meeting closed with McDonell saying he would continue taking the regions concerns to Queen’s Park and that he was hopeful that more vaccine supply would be here soon.

The full two hour meeting can be viewed on the SDG Counties’ YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/4zuWQZ1T2MQ.

SDG – During the April 21st SDG Counties’ public meeting with local officials, several statements regarding the pandemic response, vaccines, and vaccine distribution were made that either went against what had previously been published in the news, or needed verification. In the interest of accuracy, The Leader has done this.

Member of provincial parliament Jim McDonell claimed that pharmacies in neighbouring Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit were also part of Kingston-based AstraZeneca pharmacy vaccination pilot project. This is partly accurate. One pharmacy in Seeley’s Bay on the western edge of the LGLDHU is mis-labelled as being part of the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Health Unit and was included in the pilot. No other pharmacies in LGLDHU were part of this pilot project.

Warden Frank Prevost claimed that a lot of people from outside of the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region were receiving vaccination doses at EOHU clinics. After the public meeting, EOHU medical officer of health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis gave more specifics that at most, the number of out-of-region people who have received vaccinations at EOHU clinics was “a couple hundred.” The EOHU had administered at that point over 47,000 vaccination doses.

McDonell said that the neighbouring LGLDHU was part of multiple trials by the province. In fact, that health unit was included in one provincial trial. That trial was the testing for the Ontario-wide vaccine registration system before it was opened to the entire province.

McDonell claimed that the Peel Region is “twice as bad” as the EOHU region. According to Ontario Ministry of Health data, Peel has 5,659 active cases as of April 26th compared to 357 active cases in the EOHU. This means Peel has 16 times the active cases of the EOHU, not double. Peel has five times the population of the EOHU.

Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader